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Radiation Sickness

Important
It is possible that the main title of the report Radiation Sickness is not the name you expected. Please check the synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and disorder subdivision(s) covered by this report.

Synonyms

  • Radiation Disease
  • Radiation Effects
  • Radiation Illness
  • Radiation Injuries
  • Radiation Reaction
  • Radiation Syndrome

Disorder Subdivisions

  • acute radiation sickness
  • delayed radiation sickness

General Discussion

Summary
Radiation sickness describes the harmful effects--acute, delayed, or chronic--produced by exposure to ionizing radiation. An observable effect due to radiation exposure becomes quite certain after a single dose of several hundred rads. As a rule, large doses of radiation are of concern because of their immediate effects on the body (somatic), while low doses are of concern because of the potential for possible late somatic and long-term genetic effects. The effects of radiation exposure on an individual are cumulative.

Although there is currently no treatment to repair cells that have already been damaged by radiation, the FDA has recently approved drugs that are very effective at removing radioactive elements from the body. Because the damage is irreversible, patients exposed to radiation that are experiencing symptoms should seek medical help immediately so that drugs can be administered.

Introduction
The first observable cases of radiation sickness occurred after the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japanese doctors described an unknown disease with symptoms that "suddenly appeared in certain patients with no apparent injuries." It is now known that these first patients were suffering delayed effects of radiation exposure. Radiation sickness can result in patients with low exposure levels, such as cancer treatments, and leave them with symptoms similar to a case of the flu. However, in cases of extreme exposure caused from atomic weapons or a power plant meltdown, such as Chernobyl, the effects can be fatal.

Total dose and dose rate determine somatic or genetic effects of radiation. The units of measurement commonly used in determining radiation exposure or dose are the roentgen, the rad, and the rem. The roentgen (R) is a measure of quantity of x or gamma ionizing radiation in air. The radiation absorbed dose (rad) is the amount of energy absorbed in any substance from exposure, and applies to all types of radiation. The R and the rad are nearly equivalent in energy for practical purposes. The rem is used to correct for the observation that some types of radiation, such as neutrons, may produce more biological effect for an equivalent amount of absorbed energy; thus the rem is equal to the rad multiplied by a constant called the "quality factor". For x and gamma radiation the rem is equal to the rad. The rad and the rem are currently being replaced in the scientific nomenclature by two units that are compatible with the International System of Units, namely the gray (Gy), equal to 100 rads and the Sievert (Sv), equal to 100 rem.

Resources

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
1311 Mamaroneck Avenue
Suite 310
White Plains, NY 10605
Tel: (914)949-5213
Fax: (914)949-6691
Tel: (800)955-4572
Email: infocenter@LLS.org
Internet: http://www.LLS.org

American Cancer Society, Inc.
250 Williams NW St
Ste 6000
Atlanta, GA 30303
USA
Tel: (404)320-3333
Tel: (800)227-2345
TDD: (866)228-4327
Internet: http://www.cancer.org

National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements
7910 Woodmont Ave.
Suite 800
Bethesda, MD 20814
USA
Tel: (301)657-2652
Fax: (301)907-8768
Email: tbell@belsarassociates.com
Internet: http://www.NCRPonline.org

Rare Cancer Alliance
1649 North Pacana Way
Green Valley, AZ 85614
USA
Internet: http://www.rare-cancer.org

Genetic and Rare Diseases (GARD) Information Center
PO Box 8126
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8126
Tel: (301)251-4925
Fax: (301)251-4911
Tel: (888)205-2311
TDD: (888)205-3223
Internet: http://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/GARD/

For a Complete Report:

This is an abstract of a report from the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). A copy of the complete report can be downloaded free from the NORD website for registered users. The complete report contains additional information including symptoms, causes, affected population, related disorders, standard and investigational therapies (if available), and references from medical literature. For a full-text version of this topic, go to www.rarediseases.org and click on Rare Disease Database under "Rare Disease Information".

The information provided in this report is not intended for diagnostic purposes. It is provided for informational purposes only. NORD recommends that affected individuals seek the advice or counsel of their own personal physicians.

It is possible that the title of this topic is not the name you selected. Please check the Synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and Disorder Subdivision(s) covered by this report

This disease entry is based upon medical information available through the date at the end of the topic. Since NORD's resources are limited, it is not possible to keep every entry in the Rare Disease Database completely current and accurate. Please check with the agencies listed in the Resources section for the most current information about this disorder.

For additional information and assistance about rare disorders, please contact the National Organization for Rare Disorders at P.O. Box 1968, Danbury, CT 06813-1968; phone (203) 744-0100; web site www.rarediseases.org or email orphan@rarediseases.org

Last Updated:  9/15/2011
Copyright  1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 2003, 2011 National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.

WebMD Medical Reference from the National Organization of Rare Disorders

Last Updated: September 04, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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